What losing chess games can teach you about decision-making [#12]

Chess can be brutal – but it imparts a valuable life lesson through defeat.

What losing chess games can teach you about decision-making [#12]

My opponent, a kid with curly blond hair wearing a blue sweatshirt, shakes my hand and starts my clock. I’m playing White against him in the first round of the tournament – and I’m feeling pretty confident, since I’m rated 300 points higher than he is.

I make my first move. He fires back quickly, and I take a second to think. After a few moves, the opening veers beyond my studies, and so I focus harder. After each of my moves, I quietly press the clock and hastily scribble my move on my scoresheet.

In the middlegame, I try to pry open the protective wall of pawns in front of my opponent’s king, but he defends well. As I walk to the bathroom after one of my moves, I feel frustrated with his resilience. I’m playing a great game so far. He’s just miraculously managing to hold on.

As I walk back to the game, I notice he’s made a move. He gets up, and I grow frustrated. I make a quick, uncalculated move with my knight, slapping the clock before I feel that something doesn't seem quite right. Bang.

Oh, look. My opponent has finally made it back to the board. He glances at me quickly with a confused look in his eyes, and I can’t understand why until he moves his bishop onto a light square, putting my king in check.

He glances at me again, and then leaves the board with a hint of a smirk on his face. And now I’m forced to realize how large my mistake really was.

I’m going to lose my queen – the most powerful piece in chess.

Like anyone would, I immediately calculate all the possible outcomes. If I move my pawn here, can I save my queen? Nope. If I take his bishop, can I get enough material back to maybe save the game? Nope. If I lose this game, will my mom let me eat candied popcorn in the hotel room? Probably.

Eventually, I have to confront reality. I move my king one square to the left and wait for the inevitable demise of my poor queen. And, of course, he takes my queen with no hesitation.

As the endgame approaches, I keep fighting. For a few seconds, I have a glimmer of hope – but that glimmer is destroyed when I realize my elaborate plan on the board doesn’t work at all. There simply isn’t much I can do.

I have to resign a few moves later. And I can’t help but wonder how the game might have gone if I simply hadn’t made that stupid knight move.

Chess is an unforgiving game.

I've played over 5000 games of chess, and I've lost in many spectacular ways. I've blundered my queen too many times to count. I've had games where I lost on time when I was one move away from delivering checkmate.

But I've lost the vast majority of my games by making quick + dumb decisions.

Here's one of the best lessons I've learned from chess:

If you're going to make a big life decision, you should spend a lot of time considering the possible consequences of that decision.

So many people make irrational life decisions because they're driven by their emotions or don't spend enough time pondering their decision. Some examples:

  • Buying a fancy car out of their budget (necessitating debt)
  • Deciding to propose to a narcissistic girlfriend / boyfriend
  • Dropping out of high school

Whenever you have a big decision on your hands, you should sit down and think. Ask yourself: Are you making a brilliant move? Or are you just making a large blunder?

In summary:

You can make 25 consecutive good moves and throw the whole game away by making just 1 bad move. The same goes for life – you should make thoughtful decisions now to avoid being worse off in the future.